The Wonderful World of Reprints

Ah, the good old days.

Well, not really.  I’m talking about not too long ago – maybe just 10 or 15 years – when if you wanted information from an old (and often rare) regimental history, reminiscence book by a veteran, etc., you had to get a copy of an original tucked away at some repository somewhere.

Over the years, of course, I got copies of pages of every cavalry unit regimental and such that existed.  All of which led to the mountains of papers, files, and binders that still clog my library.  I spent many trips to the library at Carlisle Barracks, for instance, rummaging the stacks and running every one of those old books through the copy machine, plunking in my quarters like a video game addict in front of the latest machine.  When I got home, I would carefully put the copies of each book into a binder, with a prominent sticker on each spine so that I could readily identify each binder on the shelf.

And I could tell you how much I had invested in each one.  For instance, a copy of a 400 page book would be $100 in quarters (whew!) for the copies, plus a few bucks for the binder, and by the time you figure in the gasoline, hotel room, meals, etc., you might have $125 or more in each one.  (Just don’t tell my wife that – she would count the number of binders in my library, multiply them by that figure, and then… well… kill me.)

But over the last few years, several publishing companies have made successful enterprises by producing reprints of those old Civil War books.  There are many small ones (and some more famous books have been reprinted many times in many versions) but a couple of the larger publishers are the Higginson Book Company and Morningside Book Shop.  Just take a look at their websites and their offerings.  Also, Jim McClean’s Butternut&Blue has done some great reprints, along with Dave Zullo’s Olde Soldier Books.  If you search online long enough, you’re liable to come up with a reprint of that old regimental or soldier reminiscence you’ve been looking for.  If it’s not available yet, you may not have to wait long.  Many of the publishers will print these books on demand, limiting their inventory (but which drives the price up a tad).  However, considering how much you might invest in getting your hands on a xerox copy of a rare original (see comment above regarding what to not tell my wife), spending $30 or even $60 on a reprint is comparatively cheap.

Over the years, I’ve bought some original cavalry regimentals when available and when I could afford it.  Some I got really great deals on.  For instance, I own two copies of the original regimental of the 9th New York Cavalry that I bought in a little bookshop in upstate NY.  I think each one cost me about $20, and they worth nearly $400 each.  One, in fact, was owned by, and is signed by, a member of the regiment.  One of my proudest possessions is a pristine copy of the large regimental of the 6th New York Cavalry.  I own originals of the 2-volume Pennsylvania at Gettysburg (also in reprint now) that were owned by, and are signed by, the then Speaker of PA’s House of Representatives.  (I refuse to tell my wife what those cost me!)  In a couple of these cases, I’ve purchased reprints of original regimentals I own, so that I could use the reprints for research – thus saving wear and tear on the originals.

But what the reprints have done is helped to clean up my library.  Instead of so many binders full of copies of books, and file folders stuffed with the paper copies, the reprints have allowed me to shelve them just like any other book.  It’s much easier to use the reprints now, and they’re much easier to identify.  I own the reprint, original, or copy of every single cavalry regimental ever published for a cavalry unit in the Eastern Theater, and many of the western ones.  Plus, every single book written by a cavalry veteran that I’m aware of, plus copies of their pamphlets, published papers, speeches, etc.  This in addition, of course, to the room full of papers, books, and other related items that make up a researcher’s library.  Many parts of it are disorganized, and I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to make some order out of it (and never get there anyway).

But thank goodness for the reprints.  I can now look at shelves full of them, and think back to the days when I had to carefully make copies of the old originals (or pay someone else to do it) and how much money and time I had invested in each one.  But when I’ve purchased a reprint, I find it hard to dispose of the corresponding binder containing a copy of the same book due to that investment.

Anyone want to pay $125 for a copy of a book?  Nicely bound?  With a real nice sticker on it?

Published in: on October 30, 2006 at 9:30 pm  Comments (7)  

Hey, it’s just me…

Here’s something that I’ve been thinking about for over a year now, ever since my first article appeared in a major Civil War magazine – America’s Civil War magazine, to be specific.  And I’m writing about it now because I’ve been thinking about this particular topic even more so now that my first book has been published.

I’m beginning to get treated differently by people when I first meet them.  And I haven’t really seen this addressed very often by other published authors, so here goes.

In July 2005, an article I did on Buford’s early morning July 1 action at Gettysburg appeared in America’s Civil War.  Rather unhumbly I’ll admit that it’s probably the most detailed tactical narrative of Buford’s fight to open the battle that’s not only been packed into 4,000 words, but that’s probably appeared anywhere. 

I do living history in the person of one of Buford’s brigade commanders several times a year along with my good friend Mike Nugent.  I portray Col. Thomas Devin, and Mike portrays Col. William Gamble.  With the Gettysburg National Military Park’s blessing, we set up a little display on McPherson Ridge on the battlefield, complete with cavalry-related items (weapons, flags, equipment, etc) and a large display map.  Well, last July a fella who works at the National Archives, upon hearing my real name, figured me for the guy who wrote the article about Buford in the magazine he’d just read.

You’da thunk I was the new rock star.

He really enjoyed the article, and treated me like I was a celebrity.  I thought it very nice of him, and I’ll admit I was flattered to be treated like one of those “famous” Civil War scholars we all know.  It certainly massaged my ego.  But I’ll also admit that once he left after we had a very nice conversation, I began feeling a bit uncomfortable.  Those who know me well know that I’m a ham, I love to talk, and I love to tell folks about my passions – the study of Civil War cavalry, battles, personalities, etc.  Hell, I wouldn’t be doing this blog if I didn’t hope that somewhere out there at least one person gave a damn about what I have to say.  But at the same time I’ve always been a regular guy.  I don’t see myself as someone anywhere near the league of guys like you’ll see time after time on the History Channel, or those who write best-selling books.  I’m very comfortable doing my little thing, talking with folks on a battlefield, giving tours, talking to Round Tables, and jawing about Buford, Jeb Stuart, or George Custer over a beer in the local dive.

Now that the book has come out, I admit I do see a difference in how people react when meeting me for the first time, especially if they’ve already seen the book.  But, you know, I understand the feeling.  Before being published, I really looked up to those folks who had the knowledge and the whatever-it-took to get a book on the shelf.  I still do – that hasn’t changed.  So I see why other folks react that way to me.

It’s not a bad thing – that’s not what I’m saying.  Just that it’s different.  It’s a little strange to have those projections coming at me, rather than the other way around.  Some folks in that position, it seems, feed off such reactions and it seems to make them even more full of themselves.  I recall a few years ago while at a book signing, I purchased a book I was interested in and took it to the signing table for the author.  I complimented him on the book and on his past works, which I’ve enjoyed immensely.  He looked at me like I was wasting 15 seconds of his important life, signed the book hurriedly, and all but threw it back at me.  His behavior left me feeling quite sad for him.

So, many times over the past couple years, I have told folks that I’m just your average bum who happens to write about his passions, and some in the publishing biz think my stuff is worthy of putting into print.  For that I’m grateful, not full of myself.  The day I ever entertain the thought that it makes me better than anyone else is the day I’ll quit altogether.

It’s the reason why I have so many good friends who both enjoy my work and also have known me for many years – long before any of my work started getting published.  And hopefully they know I’ll never change.

When I spoke to the Gettysburg Round Table a few nights ago, I was glad to be told that the microphone at the podium didn’t work.  When I was introduced, instead of going up to the little stage and behind the podium, I instead went out into the crowd and just had a conversation with them – instead of giving a lecture.  In fact, a few minutes into it, I took a little poll about some things we discuss in the book, and had folks tell about their opinions and thoughts.  The whole thing ended up being more of a give-and-take, conversation-style event rather than the room listening to me give a speech for a half hour.  And that’s what I like.  And I really like listening to other peoples’ thoughts and opinions.  My uncle Anthony, who passed away about 15 years ago, left me with a poignant thought: you don’t learn a damn thing when your mouth is moving.  I hope I’ve learned to listen as well as I can talk.

I wonder how many other authors have had these same thoughts?

So, if we haven’t met yet, and we do someday, just remember that I’m as average as it gets.  Just ask my wife and daughter – they’ll tell you the only thing special about me is I’m the guy who loves them more than anything in this world.  My pants go on one leg at a time, I slip on the ice in our driveway at least once a winter to the hoots and guffaws of my amused neighbors, and it’s me who has to take out the garbage every week.

Oh, and if you buy me a beer, I promise I’ll tell you all about Jeb Stuart….

Published in: on October 29, 2006 at 1:08 am  Comments (12)  

Fabulous Night in Gettysburg

Last evening (Thursday) I made a presentation to the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable on the new book by Eric Wittenberg and me, Plenty of Blame to Go Around.  It was a terrific night, everyone seemed to enjoy my talk, and we all had a number of laughs.  My talk and the question and answer period took about an hour or maybe a little less.  At the end, I was presented a very beautiful memento of the evening – a very nice certificate from the Round Table, encased in a hand-crafted oak frame.  But this wasn’t any regular frame – it was made by Lt. Col. William D. Hewitt (Ret.) from the Longstreet witness tree on the battlefield (toward the south end) that fell in a storm back in 2002.  Bill legally acquired much of the wood from this tree, and today makes beautiful crafts from it, such as canes, tables, frames, etc.  They are sold around Gettysburg.  If you’d like to contact Bill, let me know and I’ll send you his email address.  The certificate will hold a place of honor on my office wall for all to see.

The Gettysburg CWRT is truly the cream of the crop, and I had a terrific time with both the meeting and the program, and will most definitely attend again whenever I’m in town on their meeting days.  Current President Chuck Teague does a first-class job running the meeting and the organization, and all the members should be proud of the work they’re doing.

Many folks brought the book with them for me to sign, and quite a number purchased it also.  Those who had already read it gave me very nice compliments on it, and told me that they learned a great deal about Stuart’s ride, the controversy, and were given quite a bit to think about when evaluating its effect on the outcome of the battle.

Co-author Eric, as I mentioned previously, was unable to attend, so we came up with the idea of possibly doing the Stuart’s Ride to Gettysburg tour with the Round Table members next year, so I hope we have the opportunity.  Everyone also passed on their best wishes to Eric’s wife Susan as she begins knee surgery and goes on the road to recovery.

A fabulous night with a terrific group.  A big thank you goes out to Chuck, program director Joe Mieczkowski, and all for making me feel so honored and welcome!

Published in: on October 27, 2006 at 6:39 pm  Comments (4)  

Off to Gettysburg…

Tomorrow (Thursday) morning I head out of my western Pennsylvania home for the 3 1/2 hour drive to my second home, Gettysburg. That evening I speak to the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable about the book on Stuart’s Ride. My co-author Eric Wittenberg is unable to attend with me due to caring for his (much) better half Susan, who injured a knee several days ago. I will miss being there with Eric, as I was really looking forward to doing this program with him. I know the Round Table members will be disappointed, but they will more than understand the circumstances.

I’ll be speaking about the book for a while, including the “story behind the story” – the several transitions that the manuscript went though until we completed the book as it is today. I think folks will find it interesting to hear about how the book started, and how we continually adapted our focus on it. Hopefully Friday evening, when I return, I’ll be able to post a recap of the meeting.

This will be the first of a few events in Gettysburg through November – on Saturday November 4, I will be signing copies of the book at the Butternut&Blue table at the Fall Show (All-Sports Complex near the Eisenhower farm). On Saturday and Sunday, November 18 and 19, Remembrance Day Weekend, I will be signing at the Gettysburg Gift Center (the former Wax Museum) on Steinwehr Avenue – Saturday from 12 to 4, and on Sunday from 10 to 2 right before Jeff Shaara. Luckily, that will give me time to see the program in the National Cemetery at 3pm on Sunday, featuring Tom Brokaw as speaker.

I’m really looking forward also to December 1 – that day I will be a guest on Civil War Talk Radio, speaking about the Stuart book and Civil War cavalry in general. That should be a lot of fun. I’ve really enjoyed the past programs and I appreciate such opportunities to speak about the book and my obsessional hobby – Civil War hoofbeats and cold steel!

Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 10:07 pm  Comments (5)  

Come with us, Mr. President…

The Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association articles that I’ve been going through the past few days have been giving up some interesting tidbits.  Here’s one from an 1889 article from former Confederate Cavalry commander Bradley T. Johnson concerning a little mission cooked up by him in 1864, with the approval of Wade Hampton (who commanded Lee’s cavalry after the death of Jeb Stuart at Yellow Tavern):

After the battle of Trevillian’s, June 12, 1864… General Hampton gave me permission to undertake an enterprise, which I had often discussed with him during the preceding sixty days… the day after that engagement Hampton gave his consent that I should start on my long projected expedition.
This was to pass along the base of the Blue Ridge, through Rappahannock, Culpeper, Madison and Loudoun counties, cross the Potomac at Muddy Branch, at a ford well known to many of the command, who were constantly passing and repassing it on their way to and from Maryland, surprise the Second Massachusetts Cavalry, generally known to us as the California Battaltion, and then ride at speed to the Soldier’s Home, where Mr. Lincoln had his quarters, capture him and send him off with a trusty party back over the river to Richmond.

Johnson then continues by describing how the railroad and telegraph between Baltimore and Washington were to be severed, and that the command was to be split after kidnapping Lincoln – a small part was to take Abe to the Confederate capitol, with the larger part acting as a diversionary pursuit through Maryland, perhaps Pennsylvania, and possibly even into Canada.  Johnson concludes the description of his mission:

The object was to create such confusion among the telegraph and railroad and commanding officers that the small detachment having Mr. Lincoln in charge, would escape without attracting attention, while pursuit would be directly solely to us [Johnson and the larger force].  This was my plan, however, and I set out to execute it.

And set out to execute it he did.  Johnson reshod his command (the Maryland Line) and was readying for the mission when Gen. Jubal Early put a stop to it.  Early informed him that he was readying to march on Washington himself, a plan that ultimately failed.  Lincoln was, of course, the victim of an untold number of death threats and kidnapping plots and efforts, but I had never seen this particular one by Johnson (and approved by Hampton) before.  This plot is apparently different (and was hatched prior to) the larger raid planned later, since this one was to be carried out only by Johnson and about 250 men. One can only guess how high up the foodchain this particular plot may have gotten – to Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or neither – but it’s interesting to think that it was presented and approved at least as high as the commander of the cavalry corps.


Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 3:57 pm  Comments (4)  

Gettysburg Round Table Event

This Thursday, October 26, I will be speaking to the Gettysburg Civil War Roundtable on Plenty of Blame to Go Around and signing books afterwards.  It was originally planned that co-author Eric Wittenberg and I would be there together, but unfortunately due to an unexpected conflict, Eric is unable to make it that evening.  Eric has signed a number of books and sent them to me, so fortunately attendees who purchase books that evening will be able to have both our signatures.

I’m really looking forward to this event – it’s Gettysburg, after all!  And the Round Table is comprised of terrific folks.  This will be my third signing event for the book, and the one I’ve really looked forward to this year.  Next year, I’ll be talking to groups in several states – including Ohio, North Carolina, Delaware, and in Washington DC.

The book has sold very briskly in Gettysburg.  One of the most popular bookstores (especially since Greystones closed their bookstore) literally can’t keep it on the shelf, and has ordered nearly 100 copies just in the past few weeks, including some of the Signed and Numbered Special Editions (limited to only 50 copies).  It’s very heartening that the book is so popular, and we’re getting terrific feedback on it from reviewers and readers.  I think that the Round Table has even opened up the Thursday night event to the general public.

If any members are reading this, or anyone planning on attending, it’ll be very nice to see you there.  I’ll be giving details on the book and the process we went through writing it, then answering any questions.

I also have a couple more signings at events in Gettysburg in November (The Fall Show and Remembrance Day) and will post more on those later.

In a couple days I’ll be back on the road to Gettysburg!

Published in: on October 24, 2006 at 1:15 am  Leave a Comment  

The Cavalry Journal

The Cavalry Journal was begun in 1888, and was a bi-monthly magazine published at Ft. Riley, Kansas, by cavalry officers.  Continued today by the U.S. Cavalry Association in various forms, the Journal has proven to be a terrific source of Civil War reminiscences alongside other similar publications.  I’ve had copies of several articles that appeared in the run of the magazine through the 1920’s, but a few weeks ago I put my researcher on the job of combing through them all and copying anything of interest.  Both former Federal and Confederate officers wrote pieces for the magazine, and I figured a lot of material would turn up that I could use in my writing.

Today I received a large packet of copies from just the first few years of the magazine, and there is indeed a wealth of interesting material.  Among articles that are both specific (battle and campaign pieces, biographies, etc.) and general cavalry-related in nature, I found a series of articles written by former Confederate officer Thomas T. Munford.

Thomas T. MunfordMunford was a prolific writer after the war.  An 1854 graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Munford joined the Confederate army in May 1861 and served first as an officer of mounted infantry, then as colonel of the 2nd Virginia Cavalry. 

In 1891, Munford began his series of articles on war reminiscences for the Journal.  His first submission contains a couple of paragraphs that give great insight into the early armaments and equippage of southern cavalry, and adds even more to the appreciation for the southern horsemen’s ability to whip their northern counterparts, nearly without exception, for the first couple years of the war:

In those days, yes, so late as 1862, we were glad to get a double-barreled shot-gun – a muzzle loader at that – and a saber resembling a grass scythe blade, with a leather scabbard, as such were the only arms issued to us.  The belt of the scabbard ran over the shoulder; our percussion caps were carried in the vest or trousers pockets and our paper cartridges of buckshot in small haversacks of cloth.  A leather socket was attached to the stirrup-leather by the side of the right foot to steady the gun.  Our saddles were generally of the old English pattern, to which additional rings were stitched to attach the coat or blanket straps.  Thus equipped we started to the army in May, 1861.

Later in the article, I also found a little tidbit in which Munford describes a bit of a rift over how Jeb Stuart designated the first couple regiments of Virginia cavalry after First Manassas (Bull Run) that I had never picked up on before:

[Munford’s 2nd Virginia Cavalry] was the oldest regiment of cavalry in the Army of Northern Virginia.  It went into the service in May, 1861, as the Thirteenth Regiment, Virginia Volunteers (mounted).  No other cavalry regiment in Virginia was fully organized until after the first battle of Manassas.  Colonel R. C. W. Radford, of the old Second Dragoons, U. S. Army, was its colonel, and never forgave General Stuart for designating his (Stuart’s) command First Virginia Cavalry, and Radford’s the Second. 

Interestingly, Stuart was a lieutenant colonel at First Manassas, while Richard Carlton Walker Radford was colonel there, having previously been a 2nd lieutenant in the Second U.S. Dragoons (the pre-Civil War term for regular cavalry), then transferring to the 1st Dragoons.  Like Munford, Radford attended VMI then graduated from West Point in 1845.  Radford wasn’t popular with his men since he had disdain for volunteers, and had high regard only for regular soldiers.

Munford later continues:

Just before the battle of the first Manassas General Beauregard had promised to Colonel Radford, the senior cavalry officer, the command of all the cavalry; but General J[oseph] E. Johnston promoted General Stuart, which soured Radford so that upon the reorganization he determined to leave the army.

And leave he did.  Radford was not re-elected colonel of the regiment in April 1862, so he left the army and became colonel of the 1st Virginia State Line troops that August, where his service record ends.

The little conflicts and politics one finds among otherwise standard reminiscences are often very interesting and quite revealing.

Published in: on October 23, 2006 at 5:18 pm  Comments (6)  

“Say ‘ello to my little friend!”… again

Okay, one more post about older movies on DVD…

The same day my wife and I picked up the Planet of the Apes TV show DVDs, I also purchased DVDs of some favorite movies such as The Patriot and Scarface. I didn’t oohh and aahh at them like I did with the Ape offerings, however. You see, I already had Patriot and Scarface on DVD. Was I replacing them because my existing movies were damaged or never returned by one of my no-brother-good-in-laws? Nope, the ones in my collection were perfectly fine.

So, J.D., why buy the second copies? you ask. Lemme ‘splain.

These new DVD versions weren’t the plain old ones you can buy shortly after the movie is released, like the ones I already had. Oh no. This Patriot and this Scarface were “Platinum Editions,” and “Director’s Cuts.”

With these, I get to see those ten minutes of the film that didn’t play in theaters. Interactive menus, baby. Intensive “makings of.” Oh, and while watching Scarface, there’s a tracking program included in which I can keep track of how many times the “F” word is used. I knew my life wouldn’t be complete until I owned that little gem of a digital whopper.

It’s a conspiracy, I tell you. The movie companies wait a few years after selling those “crappy” regular DVDs of their movies (if you want an “F” word count, well then keep track on a piece of paper, Chester) and then they come out with these Platinum Extended Director’s Gold Special Boxed Silver Editions, making you buy it all over again. “Honey, I can sell my old DVD in the next garage sale,” I’ve been heard to say many times.

So, I guess I’ll keep buying the new versions, replacing my old ones. And if you come to the next garage sale at my house, you’ll see a table of its own with all kinds of DVDs for sale – and Patriot and Scarface will be among them. For a buck, you can keep track of the “F” word on a piece of paper, can’t you?

And, I guess when the new DVD packages of the movies Glory, Gettysburg, and Gods and Generals (maybe we’ll get to see the Antietam scenes after all) appear, I’ll snap them up. Then I can put the new Gettysburg DVD next to my old two-volume VCR tapes of the movie, the Boxed Collector’s edition VCR tape set of the movie, and that crappy old regular DVD of the movie. They’ve never seemed to make their way into the garage sales.

P.T. Barnum would be proud. Imagine what he could have done with DVDs…

Published in: Uncategorized on October 22, 2006 at 10:58 pm  Comments (5)  

Pass the Funnies…

When it comes to my research, I’m a real newspaper junkie. I’ve found some of the best material in period newspapers, such as those from Richmond, Washington, New York, Baltimore, etc. As many know, the post-war National Tribune is indispensible for the writings of Union veterans – with the Richmond Times-Dispatch its equally valuable counterpart. Several papers have been digitized and are online, and the latest is the digitization of the war years of The Richmond Daily Dispatch. Previously available only to researchers who perused the microfilms or originals – or paid others to do it – the paper is now available to everyone. It will prove to be a great resource.

I’ve long been suspect of any books that come out without a healthy dose of newspaper sources, when warranted by the subject, in the bibliography. They’re just too valuable and revealing. Even those that aren’t digitized are relatively easily obtainable at the National Archives reading room and other depositories. If I don’t see some newspapers in a bibliography (besides other primary sources) I wonder if the author did only half-hearted research.

For example, for the recent book on Stuart’s ride to Gettysburg I co-authored with Eric Wittenberg, we used a wealth of newspapers – in fact, the list of them takes up the entire first page of the book’s bibliography. We used dozens of them. A Baltimore newspaper from July 1863 gave us the contents of a dispatch written by one of Stuart’s brigade commanders – Fitz Lee – that was captured by Union scouts. Lee sent the dispatch to Stuart warning of the presence of Federal cavalry in Hanover Pa just an hour or so before the all-day battle there broke out on June 30. Had Stuart received that dispatch, the battle may never have happened at all. The dispatch has never been used in any book or article on the battle, and was a real discovery. It changes the interpretation of the movements and battle, and appears for the first and only time in our book.

If anyone hasn’t examined period newspapers and those veterans writings in post-war papers in depth before, check them out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the world they open up.

Published in: on October 21, 2006 at 6:49 pm  Comments (4)  

Book Signing

Tomorrow (Saturday, Oct. 21) I will be signing copies of Plenty of Blame to Go Around at the Walden Books store in the DuBois Mall, DuBois PA (just off Rt. 255 on Shaffer Road).  Signing will be from 12 noon until 2 pm.  If anyone is within the area and can stop in, it’d be nice to see/meet you.  We’ll have plenty of first editions available, which are technically sold out except for a small stock that Eric and I have.

Published in: Uncategorized on October 20, 2006 at 4:38 pm  Comments (4)